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“60 Minutes” on bomb-sniffing dogs

60 Minutes looked at bomb-sniffing dogs in a report that, especially given last night’s other featured stories — on the Marathon bombing and the 9/11 Memorial — brought home not just how many lives they’ve saved in the military overseas, but how many more they might save here.

Reporter Lara Logan focused on the dogs of war, and the trainers that describe their canines as nearly infallible when it comes to detecting bombs.

But they’re not so infallible when explosive devices are planted after the dogs have made their sweeps, as apparently was the case at the Boston Marathon.

“Would an average police dog have found these bombs at the Boston Marathon …?” she asked trainer Mike Ritland.

“…Based on what I do know, yes,” Ritland said. “If dogs went through the areas where they were placed– you know, your average, certified police bomb dog should have found them. My thoughts are if these guys (the suspects) are paying close attention to these dogs, they’re waiting. And when the dogs leave, they bring it in, they hand– they infiltrate, essentially, they drop it right where it’s busy, and very soon after, it detonates.”

As the “60 Minutes” piece pointed out, since 9/11 dogs have been used more than ever because nothing is more effective in finding hidden bombs. Dogs in the employ of the military and FBI have sniffed out bombs, captured enemies, and one assisted Navy SEAL Team 6 when it took down Osama bin Laden. Much more of what they do, given the often secretive nature of their work, never becomes known.

“The best of them serve with U.S. Special Operations and they’re in a league of their own,” Logan noted. “It’s nearly impossible to get anyone to talk about them publicly because much of what they do is classified, but we were able to talk to the people who train them for this story. We took the opportunity to ask about what might have happened in Boston while getting a rare glimpse inside the secretive world of America’s most elite dogs.”

(One member of the “60 Minutes” team — in a segment not shown on the air but featured on 60minutesovertime.com – even volunteered to be chased down by a military dog in training in Texas. Producer Reuben Heyman-Kantor, in the video above, tried to outrun the dog, but was brought down quickly.)

In her interview with former Navy SEAL Ritland, who now finds and trains dogs for Special Operations and top tier units in the FBI, Logan asked, ”What can these dogs do on the streets of America?”

“The very same thing that they do for our boys overseas in that they detect explosives– they are a fantastic deterrent– they use their nose to find, you know, people as well,” Ritland said.

“Everybody knows that dogs can smell better than humans but what they don’t realize is that if you and I walk into the kitchen and there’s a pot of beef stew on the counter, you and I smell beef stew. A dog smells potatoes, carrots, beef, onion, celery, gravy, flour. They smell each and every individual component of everything that’s in that beef stew. And they can separate everyone one of those. You can’t hide anything from them. It won’t work because you can’t fool a dog’s nose.”

Ritland now trains dogs on his 20-acre ranch in rural Cooper, Texas, runs the Warrior Dog Foundation for retired war dogs, and is the author of “Trident K9 Warriors: My Tale From the Training Ground to the Battlefield with Elite Navy SEAL Canines.”

Ritland says its important — amid these days of budget cuts — to remember what lifesavers the dogs can be, both in wars and at home.

In Afghanistan, according to the report, 42 dogs have been killed in action. They’ve become so effective that the enemy is singling them out. A Taliban commander told “60 Minutes” that on his last operation they were ordered to open fire on the American dogs first, and deal with the soldiers next.

Logan visited what she said was one of only three breeders in the U.S. who produce dogs — almost always the Belgian Malinois — for top tier military units.

She also interviewed Green Beret Chris Corbin who, along with his dog Ax, almost died on their final mission in Afghanistan.

Corbin said he missed a signal from the dog while searching for mines. Ax was alerting to Corbin’s foot, but Corbin realized it too late. He lost both his lower legs. Ax was not wounded. Both returned to duty.

Ax was at Corbin’s side during the interview, and rarely took his eyes off his former partner as he described their first reunion after the blast.

“I just said something simple. ‘Hey, where’s my boy at?’ and he stopped. He froze. He looked around. And he went into a panic until he found me and he jumped on my legs. Painful. Just– I was just happy to see him. I didn’t care how much it hurt.”

Old friends, new friends & Vietnamese soup

If this week’s move out of Baltimore taught me anything, it’s that I probably shouldn’t be moving out of Baltimore.

Three friends showed up to help me load my rental truck, along with a fourth, from Philadelphia, who also followed me the 400-plus miles back to North Carolina in the rental truck.

There are two types of friends in the world — those who say they’ll help you move, and those who help you move. And while they’re all worth keeping, one must take special care never to take the latter type for granted. A friend who helps you move is right up there with the person who pulls you from the path of an oncoming bus: You are forever in their debt — at least until you help them move, or save their life.

Will Weaver of Philadelphia flew down from Baltimore, did most of the heavy lifting and masterminded the loading of my Budget rental truck in such away that the contents would not be crushed — at least I think so, we haven’t unpacked yet.

Three Baltimore friends showed up to help load, including the couple who, as they have before, let us stay at their home, which they occupy with a Boston terrier named Darcy. They even saved us a space to park the truck on the street in front of their house.

All the shows of friendship gave me second thoughts about departing the city — even if it’s only temporary. And as for Ace, he was thrilled to visit, reconnect and suck in the smells of Riverside Park. Despite his herniated disc, he frolicked as he hasn’t frolicked for at least two weeks.

But just as we when we left Baltimore 11 months ago to start our journey, the city made leaving a little easier, slapping a parking ticket on my rental truck sometime during the night. Though it was otherwise parked legally, apparently “commercial” vehicles aren’t allowed on the street. Cost of the ticket: $250, almost as much as the truck rental.

That pretty much crushed my efforts to move as frugally as possible — assuming I pay it.

The ticket was one of only two moving mishaps (so far). The other was when I stopped at my ex-girlfriend’s home (the real one, not the cardboard one). I was picking up a few items I left in her care, and Will and I grabbed lunch to go at the eatery across the street. We sat at her picnic table to eat, and, just after I took my last bite — as if it somehow that last swallow of cheeseburger put me over the limit — the legs on the bench cracked, sending me falling over backwards.

I was fine. The bench is not.

As for the cardboard girlfriend, I passed her on to another male friend, leaving her on his doorstep.

Yesterday, we pulled out of Baltimore in the rain, and arrived seven hours later in Winston-Salem, also in the rain.

That allowed us to put off unpacking until today. Instead, Will and I went out to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant, where we got soup in bowls bigger than my bathroom sink. I, the ever-frugal one, got what remained of mine packaged to go.

As we walked back to my car (which thankfully had no parking ticket this time), a large man approached me and said he wanted to shake my hand.

His story, as they always do, followed: Just got out of jail three hours ago, trying to raise $14 for a cab ride to his aunt’s house, already had $10, needed $4 more.

I informed him that, with his $10, he was in possession of more cash than me, but — feeling his pain and smelling his breath, and realizing I should probably stay on his good side – I offered up what I had.

“How about some soup?”

He thought about it and, while it was clearly his second choice, accepted the plastic vat before moving on to his next mark.

Being new to town, and not having my protector, Ace, with me, I figured it was better to make a new acquaintance than to have soup tomorrow.

For me, the choice was simple: Friend or Pho.

Techno-whipped? I pity the fool

In our eighth month of bouncing about this expansive and expensive country, Ace and I seemed headed for our most frugal stretch yet – thanks mainly to lucking out and finding some free housing upon our return to Baltimore.

For the first time, in our continuing effort to see America while spending less than what we were while sedentary and housed – about $1,500 for rent, food and utilities – we were looking at a three digit number instead of four.

Now, thanks to my stupidity, and with an assist from Verizon, we’ve blown it, and somebody has some explaining to do.

Before we left on our journey, I canceled my home Internet service (through Verizon) and signed up for wireless mobile broadband (through a different part of Verizon), allowing us to get online no matter where we were for $59 a month – the package they suggested for a heavy user.

It worked pretty great. There were only two or three locations in our 22,000 miles of travels, where service was non-existent or spotty.

I was so pleased, I even eventually sent Verizon the payment they were seeking from me for home Internet service for the month following the date I moved out of my house. It was basically a choice between paying the money I didn’t really owe, being regularly harassed by the credit agency to which they turned the matter over, or spending far too much time on the phone, holding and then some, to try and straighten it out.

All was going smoothly with my wireless mobile broadband — or so I thought until last week, when Verizon informed me that for the past two months I’d gone over monthly limit, and that I owed them more than $400. Read more »

Maniacs, monkeys and the Motel 6

 

In a way, this might not be the best time to sing the praises of Motel 6 – it being in the news now for leaving the light on for one Jared Lee Loughner.

Authorities say the Tucson man rented a room from America’s most affordable motel chain to plot the final steps of the horrific shooting spree that left six dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords.

In another way, though, there’s probably no better time to stand up for a dependable, if imperfect, friend than when that friend is being tarnished with the broad brush of guilt by association.

A recent Washington Post story started out this way: “Room 411, a king-bed single in a dark and grimy Motel 6 near the railroad tracks on the western edge of Tucson, served as the staging ground for Jared Loughner’s series of pre-dawn errands before last Saturday’s shooting spree outside a suburban supermarket here.”

Pretty good writing, and — assuming it was really “dark and grimy” — nothing wrong with it, unless you’re Motel 6, in which case you find yourself, through no fault of your own, in the thick of a dark and grimy story you’d rather have no part of.

So I’m here — even though it has always been Tom Bodett’s job — to speak up for Motel 6, a topic on which I consider myself an authority. What makes me such an expert?

In the last eight months, my dog and I have stayed in Motel 6′s in Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana;  Flagstaff, Holbrook, Yuma and Tucson, Arizona; Tucumcari and Albuquerque, New Mexico;  Oklahoma City and Midwest City, Oklahoma; Lewisville, Dallas, Hunstville and Houston, Texas; Greensboro, Statesville and Raleigh, North Carolina; Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.; New Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Niantic, Connecticut; Portland and Bangor, Maine; Syracuse, New York; Brattleboro, Vermont; Fargo, North Dakota; Billings and Butte, Montana; Spokane and Kirkland, Washington; Coos Bay, Oregon; Ukiah, Monterey, San Bernadino and Bakersfield, California; and Russellville, Arkansas.

Seventy nights in all.

Crime struck only twice, and only in the most minor of ways, both times in Texas when ohmidog! door magnets were removed from my Jeep — one in Lewisville, one in Huntsville. Then again, with a 130-pound dog at your side, folks tend to not mess with you.

During our 22,000 miles of travels, I poked a lot of fun at the chain, with its bare bones ambience, and near total lack of amentities. They’re not always in the greatest of neighborhoods. Their pools aren’t always pristine, or even open, or even there anymore. There are no ”continental” breakfasts, or in-room coffee makers at the Motel 6. You can walk to the lobby and serve yourself some, but it’s in tiny Sytrofoam cups that are empty by the time you get back to your room.

The quality varies widely from motel to motel, and the only consistency, chain-wide, is in the spartan furnishings and the tacky polyester bedspread. You get a small bar of Motel 6 soap, a couple of plastic disposable cups and, if you’re lucky, an ice bucket. I’ve gotten rooms without chairs, without hot water and, several times, with remote controls from which the batteries had been removed.

If there is a step that can be taken to conserve costs, Motel 6 has taken it.

And yet, as basic and humdrum as staying at the Motel 6 became for me (and maybe Ace, too), while there were nights I thought checking into another of its lookalike rooms would send me over the brink, I love Motel 6 — for two reasons.

It is consistently dog friendly, with no fees for pets and no restrictions on size or breeds. Most of the motel staff we encountered — with the exception of one employee who shrieked and ran away when encountering Ace — seem to like dogs. There were so many times that desk clerks passed him treats over the counter that Ace now jumps up and puts his front paws on any counter he encounters.

And it is consistently cheap — almost always under $50, often under $40, sometimes under $30.

On our trip, Motel 6 served as a huge comfort to me. Not the rooms, necessarily, but knowing it was there, in most towns, to take me in when others would turn me away because of my dog, or charge pet fees that nearly doubled the cost of a room, or just plain charge too much for our budget.

More important, it’s there for the growing masses who — foreclosed upon, laid off, or otherwise caught up in some bad luck — can get out of the cold for less than the cost of a tank of gasoline.

In a way, by not catering to the more upscale crowd, Motel 6 provides a public service — especially during the down economy. We met more than a few people who, with nowhere else to go, were calling their motel room home for now.

That Motel 6′s are more likely to be the scene of crime or other malfeasance is to be expected — in the same way poor neighborhoods have more problems than rich ones. People with criminal records and drug histories, people who are economically desperate or just plain desperate, end up there more often than, say, the Hilton.

Motel 6 deserves no blame or ridicule in connection with the shooting spree in Tucson. (Let’s save that for Sportsman’s Warehouse, where Loughner bought his Glock, and the Arizona lawmakers who have worked to make gunslinging so easy achievable in that state.)

I did a Google news search on Motel 6 earlier this week, and found most of the stories that popped up were, as I expected, about crimes: a man found bound and gagged inside a Motel 6 in Utah, an attempted robbery at a Motel 6 in Kansas, a man and woman arrested for using their Motel 6 room to print counterfeit money with an inkjet printer, a couple arrested with  2,000 illegally obtained pain and anti-anxiety pills at a Motel 6 in Alabama, a woman arrested on a prostitution charge after allegedly propositioning a plainclothes officer to join her in her Motel 6 room in Iowa.

One of the few non-crime stories that mentioned Motel 6 was about a colony of wild vervet monkeys, some of whom have chosen to live behind a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, Florida.

Nobody’s sure how the monkeys ended up in South Florida. Some say they are descendants of those used in a Tarzan episode once filmed there; some believe they are descendants of monkeys bred for research that helped lead to a cure for polio.

In any case, at least two of the monkeys live behind the Dania Beach Motel 6, where motel visitors look forward to watching them come out each afternoon. I’m guessing the monkeys find the Motel 6 guests equally entertaining.

What’s great about Motel 6 is its total lack of snobbiness. Desk clerks don’t look down their noses at you, or crinkle it up when you have a dog along. If you have credit card or cash, you’re in, which is as it should be.

It’s not a motel’s job — at least one at the bargain basement level — to monitor or screen its customers.

For business that are selling guns, as opposed to a night on a mattress, there is more of an obligation to screen customers, or at least there should be, in my view.

Motels 6′s don’t kill people. Guns do. Any monkey knows that.

(Vervet photo by Joe Rimkus Jr. / Miami Herald)

I didn’t sleep here …

Not that I wouldn’t have been happy to — if it hadn’t been closed, and allowed dogs, and had a vacancy.

In my time bouncing back and forth between New Hampshire and Vermont last weekend and this week – being as it coincided with peak fall foliage — rooms were hard to come by, and hard to hold on to, resulting in Ace and I staying four different places.

Which, in the interest of full disclosure, I will now tell you about.

First we checked into the Lancaster Motor Inn, which like most of the lodgings we encountered in New England had upped their prices for the autumn rush. We paid $60-something, plus a dog fee, for our room, which was just a short walk from the river, where Ace romped while I picnicked on clam chowder and apple cider.

Lancaster’s a nice little town –equal parts quaint and hard-boiled. We saw a covered bridge and, just our luck, there was a parade that night that came right past the motel. Basically, it’s every fire engine, rescue vehicle and salt truck from all the nearby towns, and they slowly roll down Lancaster’s main street, blaring their horns and sirens at full blast.

Ace didn’t think much of it, but I guess even quiet little towns need to cut loose sometimes.

Our second night was outside St. Johnsbury, Vermont, at the Alpine Valley Motel, Restaurant and Pub (though both the restaurant and pub were closed). At $80 a night, it was about twice our limit. But with few other choices, and temperatures  dropping to freezing — leading me to rule out the tent — we coughed up the dough.

It, too, was a nice little spot, with a babbling brook running behind our cabin, and views of vibrant mountainside foliage from the front porch. Again, we attempted to recoup some of what we were overspending on motels by spending less on food. Peanut butter and jelly was on the menu that night, and the next.

On our third night, after visiting the inn where John Steinbeck slept (but didn’t admit to sleeping), we stopped outside of Whitefield and walked into the office of a modest looking place  called Mirror Lake Motel and Cabins.

I rang the bell and waited, and waited, and finally the proprietor appeared, looking  like he’d been midway through a nap. He said he had vacancies, and that dogs were allowed. He wanted $60 — cash only. He grabbed a handful of keys and shuffled outside, picked a room, walked inside, and lifted up the bedspread.

“Give me about 20 minutes,” he said. Ace and I checked out the lake while he cleaned, then, once he showed us how the heater worked — “You’re going to need it tonight,” he warned — we settled in our room and whipped up some more peanut butter and jelly, this time on crackers instead of bread, which was a pleasant change of pace.

The next morning we saw snow on Mount Washington before we returned to Lancaster for a visit to Rolling Dog Ranch. Then we headed back east to St. Johnsbury, Vermont, then south to the town of Brattleboro, where we finally found some lodging we could afford — a Motel 6.

So I celebrated with a nice dinner at a Chinese restaurant, spending close to $20 — in other words, blowing the amount I had saved on an affordable motel.

A gigantic grass lawn was just across the street — property of a textile company — and I took Ace there for some exercise (before I noticed the no trespassing signs). We used it again the next morning (yes, we’re outlaws), before we shared breakfast at a nearby restaurant and checked out.

From Brattleboro, we took Highway 7 west across southern Vermont, again enjoying some peak fall foliage. I’ve gotten to enjoy several doses of that by heading south — first in the north of Maine, again in parts of New Hampshire and for a third time crossing Vermont. On our way west, the leaves were in full color as we climbed up the mountains, a little past peak as we went back down.

I won’t say I outsmarted Mother Nature; it’s more like, purely by coincidence, I adjusted to her schedule.

By the time we hit Bennington, I got yet another dose of color.

We cruised by the Bennington Monument, a 300-foot tall stone structure commemorating the Continental Army’s 1777 thwarting of British and Hessian troops that were attempting to reach a supply depot. The Americans, carrying what is believed to be the first American flag into battle, forced the British to detour to Saratoga, where they met with defeat in a battle that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War.

From the top of the monument, accessible by elevator, visitors can see Vermont, Massachusetts and New York.

It was just a few minutes more to the state of New York, where fall was also in full glory. Seeing a roadside coffee stand near Hoosick, we pulled over.

I sat at a picnic table and drank a cup. Ace got out for a stretch. And even though we’ve seen more fall foliage than anyone has a right to, we decided to take a few minutes and do what the sign said:

Spending big in the frugal state of Maine

Rolling into Maine, about the same time fall decided to, we’ve decided to lay low in Portland a few days, dry out from our camping experience and perform a little maintenance — on the new website, the car, the dog and myself — before we head into the remote, northernmost reaches of Maine.

Among those things needing to be dealt with: broken eyeglasses, dirty laundry, a shaggy and unkempt appearance (me, not Ace), and a seriously moldy smell in the car. In addition to all the wet stuff that had been riding in the back of the car for two days — I halfway expected to look back there and see Ace amid a field of mushrooms – there was still more wet stuff atop my car in my leaky rooftop carrier.

So we pulled into (you guessed it) a Motel 6 and got to work on our top priorities — for Ace, scoping out possible sources of treats; for me, doing something about the small lake that had formed inside the black plastic rooftop bag.

I decided a new rooftop carrier would be a good investment, because without it, Ace would be riding amid a mountain of camping gear, luggage and other miscellany. I hoped to get a carrier with a hard shell — one that would be easy to get stuff in and out of, and one I wouldn’t have to tie down with ropes and bungee cords.

I left Ace in the room and headed to the Sears auto center at the Maine Mall. While they had the hard-shelled carriers, they didn’t have the hardware necessary to attach it to my luggage rack, so I ended up with another soft one.

Since I was already there, I decided to get the oil change I’ve been postponing, and asked them to check my tires.

After a quick bite in the mall’s food court, I went into the Pro Vision Center, asking them to accomplish what I could not –  at least not without wearing my glasses, which one can’t do when they’re trying to reinsert that little screw that secures the temple to the front of the frames. They did it in two minutes, and charged me nothing, an act for which, by the end of the day, I would be even more thankful.

Sears called to tell me my car needed some realignment, and that my brake pads were wearing thin (which explains that squeak I’d been hearing.) I opted to have the back ones replaced and let the front ones live out what little life they have left.

That meant I had more time to kill, so I stopped for a quick and drastic (at my request) haircut, and — because the temperatures are dipping up this way and I brought no winter clothes along — bought a jacket at J.C. Penney. I opted for a black microfiber bomber jacket, though I plan no actual bombing in the near future and I have no idea what microfiber actually is.

From there, I picked up Ace so he could tag along for my next chores: doing the laundry, emptying and removing my old carrier and throwing everything that was wet into dryers – shoes, pillows, sleeping bag and tarps included. Despite my efforts, my workboots and a pair of sandals still had  strange fungi growing on them, so I disposed of them, along with the old and holey black plastic carrier and the massive amounts of dog hair left after I gave Ace a good Furminating.

When I tallied what I spent — $10 lunch, $15 at the laundromat, $20 (counting tip) for haircut, $40 for a jacket, $10 for batteries at Radio Shack and a whopping, but not unfair $473 at the Sears auto center — it added up to almost $600. Ouch.

And this just when we were completing the most frugal month yet of our travels.

In month four, we, for the first time, were headed for spending less than $1,000 for our food, gas and lodging combined — thanks mainly to staying still in Baltimore for a bit, and freeloading off friends both there and in Philadelphia.

September saw us spend only seven nights in motels, two at a campground, one in a car, 10 in the homes of friends and 10 on the boat of a friend. All tolled, we spent only $400 on shelter, only $240 on gas and about $300 on food. (Knowing we were saving money elsewhere, we treated ourselves to some nicer dinners than usual.)

Perhaps I need some lessons in frugality from the people of Maine, who, according to the stereotype anyway, have adjusted to living in a state where incomes fall far behind the rest of New England. The state’s farmers and fishermen are accustomed to an up and down economy, and know how to make ends meet during the downs.

This afternoon, while walking Ace behind the Motel 6, I noticed a group of four young people. One jumped into the Dumpster and tossed cans and glass and plastic bottles up to his cohorts.

They left with a full sack.

Frugality, they say, is a tradition here — though one can be both frugal and generous.

Take Gordon, who is temporarily living down on the first floor. He’s been a Motel 6-ite for more than two weeks.

He seems to limit his luxury purchases to treats for the dogs he meets at the motel and his daily cigar, which he steps outside to smoke, disposing of his stogies in an ashtray on the side of the building.

He spends much of the day sitting in the small lobby, handing out treats and making friends with the dogs who pass by. He plans to stay a couple of more weeks before going to visit some family in northern Maine.

If he ever needs to figure out exactly how many days he has been in this Motel 6, I know how he can do it. Just step outside and count the stogies.

Dog calls falling to deputies in Wicomico

Budget cuts at the local humane society have forced sheriff’s deputies in Wicomico County, Maryland to take on dog-related duties, and some animals may be dying as a result.

Reports of aggressive animals — once the domain of animal control officers — are now falling to deputies, who often don’t have much training in dealing with them.

Sheriff Mike Lewis says deputies have been forced to kill aggressive animals that in the past might have been subdued.

“We have to shoot it with a .45 – nobody wants to do that,” Lewis said.

In addition to lacking training, deputies don’t have the proper equipment, such as tranquilizer guns, Lewis told the Daily Times.

A year ago, the Wicomico County Humane Society had three full-time animal control officers. It now has one who works four hours a day. Under next year’s budget, the Humane Society will receive $248,000 from the county, compared to the $327,000 budgeted last year.

Executive Director Linda Lugo said the Humane Society took in 2,030 stray animals from the county from July 2009 through May of this year. The animals are held for at least six days, under law, before being put down or transfered elsewhere — at a cost of about  $122,000, Lugo said.

Funding from the county pays for three-fifths of the Humane Society’s operating budget. The city and independent fundraising by the Humane Society help cover the rest.